Engine Vulnerabilities

A study of potential vulnerabilities in the supply chain of the Russian-made RD-180 engine, which powers United Launch Alliance rockets, is slated for completion in May, said Air Force Space Command boss Gen. William Shelton. Speaking to members of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel April 3, Shelton said he was open to indigenous production of an alternative engine, provided funds are made available. “It certainly has its advantages,” Shelton said.One, the US would no longer be reliant on a foreign supplier. Two, there would be an increase in the US rocket engine industrial base. “Both of those would make a great contribution to the overall launch program,” Shelton said. Betty Sapp, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, said as a customer for ULA launches, the NRO has been aware for “quite some time” that the RD-180 is “a vulnerability.” She said NRO would feel better if an alternative was produced in the US. (Shelton prepared testimony.)